NTS LogoSkeptical News for 16 May 2010

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Senate opts for study on Lyme disease treatment


Kensington parent upset with move

May 16, 2010 2:00 AMCONCORD — It took Tucker Finerty of Kensington, who endured numerous surgeries and spent seventh-grade in a wheelchair, four years and a trip to a Lyme specialist in New Haven, Conn., before he was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2004.

After undergoing daily, intravenous infusions of long-term antibiotics for six to seven months, he made a full recovery and the high school freshman is back to normal.

This past Wednesday a bill designed to give state physicians and residents greater access to such care was substantially altered. House Bill 1326, approved by the House in February, was designed to authorize licensed physicians to prescribe long-term antibiotics for therapeutic purposes to patients diagnosed with Lyme disease and protects physicians' rights to determine the most appropriate treatment for their patients based on individualized clinical evaluation. The bill is patterned after a law Connecticut legislators adopted last year.

The state Senate on May 12, in a 13-11 vote, amended the bill to instead establish a study committee to investigate alternative medical practices and protocols for Lyme disease and report back on its findings no later than June 30, 2011. Comprised of two members of the Senate and five members of the House, the committee will investigate ways to ensure patients have access to alternative, evidence-based treatment for Lyme disease, determine if medical practitioners in the state are prohibited or sanctioned in ways that would negatively impact the pursuit of their profession, and assess ways in which a range of treatment approaches or clinical studies are made available to those seeking Lyme disease treatment.

During that period, the New Hampshire Board of Medicine and New Hampshire Medical Society will not undertake disciplinary proceedings against or sanction physicians for offering a clinical diagnosis and/or treatment of long-term Lyme disease that goes against standard medical guidelines.

The debate over the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease is divided with the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) characterizing Lyme disease as primarily acute and treated successfully in the vast majority of cases with a few weeks of antibiotics. The IDSA's guidelines for treatment have been adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Taking an opposing stance, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) asserts Lyme can be chronic and allows doctors to determine the duration of treatment based on individualized clinical evaluation. As a result of the differing guidelines, some patients found it difficult to find doctors willing to provide long-term antibiotic treatment for the disease within the state.

"We have a situation in which some patients and doctors feel they're getting caught up in the politics between different medical groups about the best way to treat Lyme disease and that kind of disagreement or political dispute might have an impact on insuring all of our constituents have access to a full-range of credible medical treatment," said Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-Exeter, a supporter of the amendment. "I think it's really important that we take every step we can to encourage the state's medical community to educate lawmakers and each other about the full-range of credible treatment options.

Finerty's mother, Julie Hall, said she wants the legislation to give medical practitioners the freedom of choice to treat patients based on an individual clinical evaluation. Hall worked on the state Lyme Legislation Committee to draft the bill.

"When someone is dying of cancer and faced with quality-of-life issues or the detrimental effects of chemo or radiation, they are given the right to choose," she said. "Lyme patients should be able to make their own individualized decisions on quality of life versus potential impacts of care."

Hall said she owes her son's life to the oft-debated long-term antibiotic treatment option. "He's a 100 percent better because of the 'alternative' medicine and I really take umbrage with discussing it as so," she said.

After months of verbal and written testimony and extensive fact-based written documents provided to House and Senate members, Hall said proponents of the bill have provided enough information to determine there is a problem with access to viable and credible medical practices and protocol and both ILADS and IDSA viewpoints are reflected in peer reviewed "evidence-based" guidelines.

"I don't think legislators have the medical or scientific background in Lyme to determine what's alternative or evidence based," she said. "That belongs in the medical arena where it's been with researchers for the last 20 years, and even they haven't come up with a final determination."

Hassan said a main concern for a number of senators centered on the language of the original bill, which they felt provided broad protection to doctors "who don't know much about the long-term antibiotic therapy or might use it inappropriately."

"I feel that argument is really a smoke screen," Hall said. "Just as charges could be levied against a doctor who erroneously diagnoses cancer and prescribes radiation to the detriment of the patient, a doctor who erroneously diagnoses Lyme disease and prescribes long-term antibiotics would be just as able to be brought up on charges the same as any doctor."

Homeopathy is witchcraft, say doctors


Homeopathy is "witchcraft" and the National Health Service should not pay for it, the British Medical Association has declared.

By Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent
Published: 9:00PM BST 15 May 2010

The BMA has previously expressed scepticism about homoeopathy Photo: GETTY Hundreds of members of the BMA have passed a motion denouncing the use of the alternative medicine, saying taxpayers should not foot the bill for remedies with no scientific basis to support them.

The BMA has previously expressed scepticism about homoeopathy, arguing that the rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence should examine the evidence base and make a definitive ruling about the use of the remedies in the NHS.

Dr Tom Dolphin, deputy chairman of the BMA's junior doctors committee in England told the conference: "Homeopathy is witchcraft. It is a disgrace that nestling between the National Hospital for Neurology and Great Ormond Street [in London] there is a National Hospital for Homeopathy which is paid for by the NHS".

The alternative medicine, devised in the 18th century by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann, is based on a theory that substances which cause symptoms in a healthy person can, when vastly diluted, cure the same problems in a sick person.

Proponents say the resulting remedy retains a "memory" of the original ingredient – a concept dismissed by scientists.

Latest figures show 54,000 patients are treated each year at four NHS homeopathic hospitals in London, Glasgow, Bristol and Liverpool, at an estimated cost of £4 million.

A fifth hospital in Tunbridge Wells in Kent was forced to close last year when local NHS funders stopped paying for treatments.

Gordon Lehany, chairman of the BMA's junior doctors committee in Scotland said it was wrong that some junior doctors were spending part of their training rotations in homeopathic hospitals, learning principles which had no place in science.

He told the conference in London last weekend: "At a time when the NHS is struggling for cash we should be focusing on treatments that have proven benefit. If people wish to pay for homoeopathy that's their choice but it shouldn't be paid for on the NHS until there is evidence that it works."

The motion was supported by BMA Chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum, though it will only become official policy of the whole organisation if it is agreed by their full conference next month.

In February a report by MPs said the alternative medicine should not receive state funding.

The Commons science and technology committee also said vials of the remedies should not be allowed to use phrases like "used to treat" in their marketing, as consumers might think there is clinical evidence that they work.

In evidence to the committee, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain said there was no possible reason why such treatments, marketed by an industry worth £40 million in this country, could be effective scientifically.

Advocates of homoeopathy say even if the effect of the remedies is to work as a placebo, they are chosen by thousands of people, and do not carry the risks and side effects of many mainstream medicines.

A survey carried out at England's NHS homeopathic hospitals found 70 per cent of patients said they felt some improvement after undergoing treatment.

Crystal Sumner, chief executive of the British Homeopathic Association (BHA), said attempts to stop the NHS funding alternative medicines ignored the views of the public, especially patients with chronic conditions.

She said: " Homeopathy helps thousands of people who are not helped by conventional care. We don't want it to be a substitute for mainstream care, but when people are thinking about making cuts to funding, I think they need to consider public satisfaction, and see that homoeopathy has a place in medicine."

She said junior doctors' calls for an end to any training placements based in homeopathic hospitals ignored the lessons alternative medicine could provide, in terms of how to diagnose patients.

Estimates on how much the NHS spends on homoeopathy vary. The BHA says the NHS spends about £4 million a year on homeopathic services, although the Department of Health says spending on the medicines themselves is just £152,000 a year.

Two weeks ago, a charity founded by the Prince of Wales to promotes alternative medicines announced plans to shut down, days after a former senior official was arrested on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.

The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health said its plans to close had been brought forward as a result of a fraud investigation at the charity.

George Gray, a former chief executive of the organisation, and his wife Gillian were arrested by Scotland Yard officers last month in an early-morning raid on their home in North London.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/alternative medicine/7113054/Homeopathy-medicine-thats-hard-to-swallow.html



Saturday, May 15, 2010

Anti-science incumbents file for re-election to Kansas Board of Education


May 14, 3:32 PM

Two conservative Republicans, John Bacon of Olathe and Ken Willard of Hutchinson, have filed this week for re-election to the state Board of Education. In 2005, both candidates supported science standards that questioned evolution and opened doors for religious mythology in science curricula – a move that made Kansas the butt of jokes beyond Dorothy and Toto.

This change in Kansas' science standards was done at around the same time that a federal court in Pennsylvania ruled "intelligent design" and its antecedents "creation science" and "creationism" are not science; and thus may not be taught as such in public schools.

Earlier this year, incumbents Janet Waugh (D-Kansas City), Sally Cauble (R-Liberal), and Jana Shaver (R-Independence) also filed for re-election. All three of these candidates voted in 2007 to return Kansas' science standards to the 21st century by including scientifically-accepted explanations of life on Earth and excluding mythological explanations.

The ten members of the state board serve staggered, four-year terms. As of this week, all those whose terms are ending have filed for re-election.

Maine GOP Governor Candidates Asked About Teaching Creationism


Charles Johnson
The Lizard Annex

May. 14 2010 - 12:05 pm

In a debate last night, the seven Republican candidates for governor of Maine were asked whether they support the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in schools.

The results: three said, "Yes," three said, "No," and one, Matt Jacobson, said, "Teach evolution in philosophy, and teach science in science." Which might have been a misstatement, but given the invincible ignorance currently fashionable on the right, it's hard to say for sure.

Even in Maine of all places, half of the GOP candidates think it's a winning issue to promote teaching Dark Ages ignorance to children as science.

Dentist says his research shows the faulty assumptions of evolution


By Gail Hollenbeck, Time Correspondent
In Print: Saturday, May 15, 2010

SPRING HILL — When Dr. Jobe Martin went to college and majored in biology, he was taught that Darwin's theory of evolution explained the origins of life.

Now, he says, he feels betrayed.

"The first organic evolution course I took, I became a convinced evolutionist," Martin said in an interview. "I was never told the other side."

Martin will talk about "the other side" Sunday at Hope Community Bible Church when he presents "God's Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution," a topic he has presented at churches, colleges and universities in several countries and all 50 states.

After graduating from dental school in 1966 as an agnostic, Martin served for two years as a captain in the Air Force. During that time, he became a Christian and met and married Jenna Dee. While he would read the Bible, Martin said he never considered the Bible's account of creation.

"I became a theistic evolutionist," Martin said. "I believed the rest of the Bible was true, but I just didn't believe in the early chapters of Genesis."

For a time, Martin practiced dentistry, establishing a private practice at NASA in Houston.

It was when Martin accepted a teaching post at the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas in 1971 and was teaching the evolution of the tooth from fish scales that two of his Christian students challenged him to prove that evolution was an accurate explanation for the origin of the earth and all of its abundance and unique life forms.

Martin set out to prove what he had been taught in college. But he found that his studies led him in the opposite direction.

"We started studying the assumptions behind evolution, which I was never taught and our students are still not taught," Martin said. "I thought, 'They aren't true.' "

Martin studied animals.

"I began to realize these animals need all their parts. They can't be having one little part here and one little part there. They've got to have it all from the very beginning. This was difficult to explain with what I believed about evolution. It no longer made sense."

Martin decided that there was little scientific evidence to back up evolution's version of origins.

Rather, the evidence led him to believe in biblical creationism.

"Their absolute complexity, the order, the regularity, the predictability, the symmetry, the beauty — an explosion, such as in the big bang theory, does not produce those kinds of things," he said.

In 1982, Martin enrolled at Dallas Theological Seminary, graduating with a masters of theology in systematic theology.

Since then, he has continued his study of biblical creation vs. evolution. He has written the book Evolution of a Creationist and is president of Biblical Discipleship Ministries.

At Hope Community Bible Church, Martin will explain his personal "evolution."

He will also talk about dinosaurs and some animals most people know little about, such as the aye-aye, a primate found only in the rain forests of Madagascar.

In his Climbers and Creepers DVD, Martin explains that the aye-aye has four unique body parts, all necessary to its survival. He says the animal had to have been created as it is to exist and would not have survived in an evolutionary process without all its "tools."

"Because we live in Satan's world system, it's based on deception and so we're not allowed to hear about things that can't be explained using evolution, so they just don't put them in the textbooks," Martin said.

That, he says, is selling kids short. Martin said there are many scientists who share his views.

"There are hundreds of Ph.D.s that are now young earth creationists. So you don't have to throw your brains out to believe what the Bible says," Martin said.

"Evolutionary science is based on a bunch of assumptions. And if the assumptions aren't valid, then there's only one other option, and that's God and creation."

Minnesota law would preserve access to alternative medicine


5.14.10 | Brandon Glenn | St. Paul, Minnesota

A recently introduced Senate bill called the "Minnesota Expanded Healthcare Practices Act" seeks to preserve access to alternative medicine. S.B. No. 3419 defines expanded health services as those "that are not generally considered to be within the prevailing minimum standards of care of a profession." The bill sets loose limitations on when alternative medicine practices can be used, including that the treatment must have "a reasonable basis" for benefit to the patient and that it doesn't have a "greater risk" of harm than conventional options. The appropriate state licensing board would bear the burden of proof in establishing that a health provider has deviated from the law. The bill has been referred to the Senate's Health, Housing and Family Security Committee.

A House proposal would establish medical homes for Somali children afflicted with autism. H.F. No. 3843 would create a medical home that would be charged with providing "early identification and intervention to Somali children." The medical home personnel would be responsible for developing community health providers to treat such children.

A newly introduced Senate bill would limit health plans' profit margins to 6 percent. Any net income in excess of 6 percent of revenue would be refunded to the state's general fund, according to provisions of S.F. No. 3423. The law would go into effect immediately upon enactment. The bill has been referred to the Senate's Health, Housing and Family Security Committee.

Brandon Glenn is a staff reporter for MedCity News

Friday, May 14, 2010

Creationism and Global Warming Denial: Anti-Science's Kissing Cousins?


By Lauri Lebo

Lauri Lebo is the author of The Devil in Dover: Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America, a book about the 2005 First Amendment trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover in which intelligent design was ruled creationism.

South Dakota Rep. Don Kopp doesn't believe we descended from apes, but he claims that's not why he wrote a resolution to cast doubt on climate change. His feelings on climate change, he says, have nothing to do with evolution.

Still, the connection is hard to ignore. Last month, Kopp successfully led efforts to adopt a resolution in his state calling for a "balanced approach" to global climatic change in public schools.

As Donald R. Prothero, Occidental College geology professor and lecturer in geobiology at the California Institute of Technology, says, "It's all out of the creationist playbook."

The New York Times raised the connection in a March 3 article "Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets." But just how much do anti-evolutionists and global warming deniers have in common?

There is one clear connection: just as there is virtually no debate in the scientific community regarding the validity of evolution, there is also little disagreement among scientists actively studying climate change.

"The overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is occurring due to man's activities on the planet," said Jeffrey Shaman, assistant professor of Atmospheric Science at the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. "The problem is that there are enormous economic and political consequences to accepting this idea."

A peer-reviewed study by the University of Illinois at Chicago from January 2009 of US-based scientists showed that of scientists most specialized and knowledgeable with regard to climate change (those who listed climate science as their area of expertise, and who also have published more than 50 percent of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change) 96.2 percent answered 'risen' to the question, "When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?"

Of those same climate scientists, 97.4% answered 'yes' to the question, "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?"

Despite these figures, some state lawmakers are now part of a misinformation campaign to foster the notion that there is no consensus—just as they have with evolution.

And they're using the educational system to get out that message.

Astrology and the Gas of Life

Rep. Kopp says his primary reason for doubting the role of humans in climate change is because he doesn't think that humans actually have that much impact on the earth. "I think we like to think we do," he said. "I think we tend to think we're more important than we are."

Though Kopp, a forester by training, presents himself as well-versed in the scientific debate, there are religious roots at the heart of his arguments.

His research as a forester was on fire-dependent plant species, and he claims to have read extensively on the issue. As a retired forester, he says he has witnessed firsthand the positive agricultural effects of carbon dioxide on atmospheric fertilization. But he also says evolution disproves the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (Entropy in a closed system will tend to increase over time), a common creationist misinterpretation since life is not a closed system.

Kopp attends the Open Bible Christian Center, "an association of autonomous evangelical Pentecostal/Charismatic churches," which embrace speaking in tongues and the resurrection in the Apocalypse. He is married to Joanne, the church's executive secretary and community pastor and has written a book, Modern Science and an Ancient Text, about how he came to embrace biblical literalism.

Admitting to climate change would, he claims, lead to a world government takeover and risks bankrupting the United States. Still, he is clear that he has no intention of returning to this topic in the House, nor will he be bringing up evolution.

"People are tired of government telling them what to do. Since I'm against big government, I don't believe government should be telling the schools what they should be teaching. This was just a resolution."

Since his resolution passed, he says, he's been overwhelmed by emails from educators around the country accusing him of trying to promote religion.

Indeed, the version of the resolution that passed the Senate and was amended in the House said, "Evidence relating to global climatic change is complex and subject to varying scientific interpretations," and that "all instruction in the public schools relating to global climatic change be presented in a balanced and objective manner."

For anyone who follows the culture war debate of religion and science, the phrase "presented in a balanced and objective manner" sounds eerily familiar. "Balanced treatment" was used in the '80s in the US Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard, in which teaching creation science in Louisiana's public schools was ruled unconstitutional. Teach evolution, Louisiana lawmakers had told educators, but you must then balance it by also teaching "creation science."

Kopp also received criticism for the wording in the original resolution, which passed in the House, which said that a variety of other factors play a role in "weather phenomena," including "astrology."

Although he wrote the first paragraph, Kopp said, the section that mentioned 'astrology' was added by the House Legislative Research Council, which meant to write 'astronomy.' "I will admit it was quite embarrassing to me," he said. "After the changes came back, I didn't read the entire bill again."

The bill states that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but a highly beneficial gas, also known as the "gas of life." Supporters of this language may have forgotten the lesson from health class that excess carbon dioxide in the bloodstream is fatal to humans.

Academic Freedom

Just as not all Christians are fundamentalists (indeed, most mainstream faiths have no problem with evolutionary theory), not all conservative Christians deny climate change.

The Evangelical Call to Action on Climate Change and its lobbying arm Evangelical Climate Initiative seek to address environmental problems from a Christian perspective of charity, social justice, and biblical stewardship.

"With climate change, it's not as directly tied into a literal interpretation of the Bible, it's more piggybacked," said Prothero, whose book, Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs, presents a narrative account of the science of climate change.

"Denialism goes very deep; evolution or climate change, it's the same vein. They view science as a threat." Prothero says. "Creationists tend to think the world was created for us. They don't see us as a part of the planet. The climate change denial is part of that worldview."

"But beat the bushes hard enough, you'll find corporate money behind dissenters on any topic."

South Dakota boasts the first resolution to focus solely on climate change without any mention of evolution, though other states could soon follow. In Utah earlier this month, the House approved legislation that urges the Environmental Protection Agency to put any plans for regulating carbon dioxide emissions on hold, "until climate data and global warming science are substantiated."

"I think there may be a tangential connection in terms of methods to creationism and intelligent design, but perhaps not a direct linkage or advisement," says Steven Newton, a spokesman for the National Center for Science Education.

As the Times article points out, "academic freedom" bills that are being introduced by state lawmakers around the country instruct educators to teach students about "both sides" of controversial issues—most notably on evolution. The Seattle-based, pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute is behind efforts to introduce many of these bills and has proposed sample legislation for lawmakers to follow.

Since the Louisiana bill was passed (making it the only state to have actually passed an academic freedom bill into law), proposed bills have included global warming and human cloning on the list of "controversial topics," as they encourage "thinking critically" about the "relationships between explanations and evidence."

More recently, in Kentucky, a bill was introduced in the Legislature that would encourage teachers to discuss "the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories," including "evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

The inclusion of other topics is part of a legal strategy to show that evolution is not being singled out for special scrutiny. The strategy's roots are in a 2005 Cobb County, Ga. case, in which the school board put warning stickers on biology books, saying evolution is "just a theory, not a fact." A judge struck down the warning stickers as unconstitutional because it unfairly targeted evolution for special scrutiny.

"I think it speaks to a religious purpose, one of the prongs of the Lemon test," said Steve Newton.

The hot-button issues of human cloning (a code word for abortion, Newton says) and global warming are linked to increase the appearance of evolution's controversy.

Fostering Fear of Science

The science blog Denialism has a list of themes used in the global warming debate that have been similarly deployed in intelligent design battles:

Well-funded think tanks are capable of derailing a scientific consensus, in this case the consensus on global warming which has existed for nearly three decades;

The goal of denialists is not to propose an alternative theory that is explanatory and useful, but to create controversy and doubt where it does not exist;

These attempts are highly effective despite a complete absence of controversy in the scientific literature. Attacks in the lay press are more than sufficient to create a false debate using an appeal for parity or balanced presentation of ideas.

In fact, the Discovery Institute has become quite vocal in the past several months about climate change. Since Jay Richards (who co-authored the intelligent design book Privileged Planet with Guillermo Gonzalez) returned to the Discovery Institute this year, he has been writing extensively on climate change skepticism and questioning the notion of scientific consensus.

In his May 16 column for the American Enterprise Institute, Richards wrote:

Anyone who has studied the history of science knows that scientists are not immune to the non-rational dynamics of the herd. Many false ideas enjoyed consensus opinion at one time. Indeed, the 'power of the paradigm' often shapes the thinking of scientists so strongly that they become unable to accurately summarize, let alone evaluate, radical alternatives. Question the paradigm, and some respond with dogmatic fanaticism.

To raise doubt about the validity of evolution and climate change, members of the Discovery Institute are now trying to get around the fact that the scientific community has reached a consensus by trivializing the years of empirical research, testing and peer-reviewed study that led to the conclusion as "dogmatic fanaticism."

"What is going on is broader than attacks on specific scientific disciplines. In a way, it doesn't matter to them which scientific discipline they are criticizing, whether it's evolution or global warming or medicine—their main thrust is a denial of the validity of science itself," Newton said. "Ironically, these right-wing deniers find common ground with extreme left-wing postmodernists, who deny textual meaning independent of a social context. These science deniers think that empirical experiments cannot have an independent, objective meaning outside of a social context, whether that be a "Darwinist" perspective or an "Al Gore" perspective.

At the same time, intelligent design proponents have done no research advancing their ideas beyond a poorly thought-out hypothesis. Rather, they cherry pick data to raise doubt about evolution. For the most part, dissenters of climate change are also not engaged in active research, but review the tracking of temperature trends, picking apart any inconsistencies in the overall pattern. For instance, skeptics say that the earth has cooled in the years since 1998. However, 1998 was an unusually hot year due to El Nino effects. Additionally, while the increase in atmospheric and land temperatures may have slowed, ocean temperatures continue to increase.

And just as the Discovery Institute has a Dissent from Darwin petition, which attempts to cast doubt on "natural selection and random mutation being able to account for the complexity of life," global warming skeptics have their own list as well.

The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine petition has 31,000 scientists who reject the science behind human-caused climate change. The petition's purpose is to create the impression that there remains a vast debate among climate scientists. However, to be considered a qualified scientist, the list only requires a B.S. degree in a range of areas including food science, general science, veterinary science, and electrical engineering.

Meanwhile, climate research directly incorporates data from a myriad of scientific disciplines, including paleontology, oceanography, chemistry, geology, and ecology. The conclusions from these fields are remarkably unified, but skeptics jump on any disagreement or differing conclusions, however small, to argue that there's no legitimate consensus.

"That's the way scientists hammer out their differences," Prothero said. (Prothero offered an example in which the scientific community has not reached consensus. Despite the recent publication of a paper asserting that scientists have reached the conclusion that an asteroid in the Yucatan killed the dinosaurs, paleontologists generally do not accept the theory, and no vertebrate paleontologists were part of the publication's research.)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its 2007 Synthesis Report, "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level."

Additionally, the report said, "There is very high confidence that the net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming."

At its most simplistic, Shaman says that "dumping more selective absorbing gases (greenhouse gases) into the atmosphere produces a radiative imbalance that increase the energy and temperature of the earth's atmosphere, land, and oceans. We can measure the CO2 increase by infrared spectroscopy from satellites as well. And we know that a doubling of CO2 from 180ppm to 360ppm (which has happened and been surpassed) leads to a ~1 degree Celsius increase of temperature on average."

Still, there is legitimate debate regarding climate change. "Not as to whether we are affecting the planet, but how much," Shaman said. Various feedbacks, such as cloud cover, could decrease warming, while others, such as water vapor, could increase it.

In light of last fall's email scandal in which some members were accused of trying to push data, it's relevant that the IPCC document is a consensus document, Shaman said.

This means that every participant from every country has to agree to every word in both the summary and the full 1000 page report… This consensus process, which is long and painful and grays all its participants produces an inherently conservative document—i.e. middle of the road assessment of the state of our understanding of the climate system and global warming. There is slim chance that an extreme position can get into the document when any one person can object and demand it be stricken. However, even a middle of the road document can have errors that ongoing scientific inquiry should correct.

Just as scientists have been reaching a consensus, acceptance by the general public has declined. The latest survey by the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of Americans think there is solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, down from April 2008, when 71 percent said there was solid evidence.

"I don't know what the tangible proof would be," Shaman said. "The collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Shelf? Would it take that?"

Just as with evolution, Shaman said that climate scientists haven't been their best advocates in responding to attacks of misinformation. He said climate change desperately needs a Ken Miller, the Brown University biology professor best known for his cheerful smackdowns of creationists and intelligent design proponents.

"Climate change requires people to get out there and talk about it," Shaman said. "You need people like [Miller] who get out and articulate themselves, who don't get ruffled in any way."

At this fall's Tea Party protest I attended in Washington DC, many participants decried the rather wonkish issue of cap-and-trade legislation. Shaman said the Tea Party opposition is actually a perfect fit. People view any attempts by government to legislate solutions as a restriction on personal liberty.

"Unfortunately, this requires a larger worldview, that resources on the planet are limited and must be utilized in a sustainable way," he said.

In Turkey Noah's Ark Was Found By Evangelical Indiana Joneses


..Posted by Hector Do on May 14, 2010 - 5:42am
Tagged in Evangelical Indiana JonesesNoah's ArkTurkey

Noah's Ark has been found once again! After finding remains of a structure that may have carried livestock, a group of Chinese and Turkish evangelists say they found Noah's Ark. The intrepid explorers are keeping the site very secret, but they told Hong Kong correspondents of Agence France Presse (AFP) that carbon dating proves that their discovery is around 4,800 years old--about the time, they say, Noah's Ark set sail.

Noah's Ark found ... honest

The claim of the Noah's Ark Ministries International is "Noah's Ark Found" which was formed in 2003 in Hong Kong. It is supposed to be a joint effort between Hong Kong based Media Evangelism, Noah's Ark Ministry International, and the Turkish Government, according to the South China Morning Post. Local Turkish officials will ask the central government in Ankara to apply for UNESCO World Heritage status so the site can be protected and pave the way for a major archaeological dig. No word on how to pay for it yet. They might end up needing a loan.

Dimensions of Noah's Ark

Noah's Ark dimensions listed within the bible led expeditions over the centuries to suggest they had discovered the vessel in which Noah, under orders from God, gathered mating pairs of all the world's animals in a boat. The Ark dimensions measure 300 cubits by 50 cubits. The cubit is a measurement used anciently and is said to be the length of a forearm. Let's say a forearm is about 20 inches long. The ark would now be 500 feet long by 83 feet wide. The world has at least 5,416 species of just mammals. It would definitely have been an act of God to have 11,000 plus animals of different sizes on the vessel that small. The bugs, plants, and amphibians would have had to fend for themselves. The fishes, clams and lobsters would are OK, of course.

Noah's Ark found timeline

Was Noah's Ark found? The evangelical explorers claim their carbon dating dates their discovery at 4,800 years old, lead Yeung Wing-cheung (not to be confused with 1980s one-hit wonder Wang Chung) to tell the AFP, "It's not 100 percent that it is Noah's Ark, but we think it is 99.9 percent that this is it." Sadly, a review of reality is given by the sliver of doubt in Wing-cheung's mind. Biblical legend says God sent a flood to destroy a human race overcome with sin and depravity. Evidently the flood wreaked havoc while large civilizations in China, Egypt, and Greece got a free pass. Or perhaps they appeased the almighty with instant cash.

In Turkey Noah's Ark was found again

Noah's Ark found in Turkey is a headline that's been seen before. One of today's most enduring claims of Noah's Ark found concerns the "Durupinar site" about 18 miles south of the Greater Ararat summit. the Durupinar is a large rock that looks like a boat. Although geologists have determined it is a natural rock formation, tourists still flock to the site and Wyatt's Ark Discovery Institute continues to try and make money now on the idea.

Kidding about finding Noah's Ark!

The latest expedition that claims Noah's Ark is found joins a long list of hopefuls and hoaxes. The media can't resist the temptation as usual. One of the latest and biggest hoodwinking happened in 1993, when CBS aired a tabloid-flavored special entitled "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark." It was admitted by the star of the show who turned out to be an actor named George Jammal, that the "sacred wood" from the ark was taken from railroad tracks in Long Beach, Calif., and cured with various sauces in an oven.

Article Resources

Agence France Presse


UNESCO World Heritage


All present-day life arose from a single ancestor


A new study uses statistics to test whether life on Earth can be traced back to a common ancestor (example shown in a) or multiple primordial life forms (b). Dotted lines indicate gene swapping between species. M. Steel and D. Penny/Nature 2010One isn't such a lonely number. All life on Earth shares a single common ancestor, a new statistical analysis confirms.

The idea that life-forms share a common ancestor is "a central pillar of evolutionary theory," says Douglas Theobald, a biochemist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. "But recently there has been some mumbling, especially from microbiologists, that it may not be so cut-and-dried."

Because microorganisms of different species often swap genes, some scientists have proposed that multiple primordial life forms could have tossed their genetic material into life's mix, creating a web, rather than a tree of life.

To determine which hypothesis is more likely correct, Theobald put various evolutionary ancestry models through rigorous statistical tests. The results, published in the May 13 Nature, come down overwhelmingly on the side of a single ancestor.

A universal common ancestor is at least 102,860 times more probable than having multiple ancestors, Theobald calculates.

No one has previously put this aspect of evolution through such a stringent test, says David Penny, a theoretical biologist and Allan Wilson Centre researcher at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand. "In one sense, we are not surprised at the answer, but we are very pleased that the unity of life passed a formal test," he says. He and Mike Steel of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, wrote a commentary on the study that appears in the same issue of Nature.

For his analysis, Theobald selected 23 proteins that are found across the taxonomic spectrum but have structures that differ from one species to another. He looked at those proteins in 12 species — four each from the bacterial, archaeal and eukaryotic domains of life.

Then he performed computer simulations to evaluate how likely various evolutionary scenarios were to produce the observed array of proteins.

Theobald found that scenarios featuring a universal common ancestor won hands down against even the best-performing multi-ancestor models. "The universal common ancestor (models) didn't just explain the data better, they were also the simplest, so they won on both counts," Theobald says.

A model that had a single common ancestor and allowed for some gene swapping among species was even better than a simple tree of life. Such a scenario is 103,489 times more probable than the best multi-ancestor model, Theobald found. That's a 1 with 3,489 zeros after it.

Theobald's study does not address how many times life may have arisen on Earth. Life could have originated many times, but the study suggests that only one of those primordial events yielded the array of organisms living today. "It doesn't tell you where the deep ancestor was," Penny says. "But what it does say is that there was one common ancestor among all those little beasties."

Almendinger: Science is not some plot bent on making your life meaningless


Published: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 1:00 PM CDT

Recent letters printed in the Gazette have, once again, placed the views of the fringe on center stage. These views falsely pit religion against science, when no such conflict exists in the minds of most adults. Let's get a few things straight.

1) Belief in evolutionary theory does not preclude belief in God. Evolution, like all scientific theories, is mute on the existence of God - it neither denies nor requires God. The question of God's existence is simply outside the purview of science.

Science is the systematic investigation of natural phenomena. It does not explain these phenomena by invoking supernatural intervention.

Should such intervention occur, science will not be the vehicle of identification; science is limited that way. It politely leaves room for religion.

2) For all intents and purposes, religion requires a belief in the supernatural, and commonly in beings called gods. At least it does so in my dictionary, and in the Bible, too, for that matter.

I was raised in the Christian church, so I use the word God. Those who would call atheism and secular humanism "religions" do so at the peril of removing God from His central defining role in all religions. If you tell me that Secular Humanism is a religion, then you're telling me that God is not required for religion. I would think that notion would be insulting to most churches.

You cannot arbitrarily start labeling any belief as a religion, without cheapening the true meaning of religion.

3) "Intelligent design" (ID) is in fact creationism being paraded about on stage in the emperor's clothing, and it's not a pretty sight.

Teaching ID is tantamount to teaching that God created the world in its present form. Such teaching is fine for Sunday school, but utterly inappropriate for science class. Contrary to claims in recent letters, ID does indeed invoke supernatural intervention and is therefore not science. Suppose there were such a designer of our world. One must then necessarily ask the recursive question, who designed the designer? And then, who designed the designer's designer? At some point, you reach God.

Those who say that ID is not creationism, and does not require God, are intentionally trying to deceive you. They are trying to get their religious beliefs taught in science classes in public schools, in direct violation of the establishment clause of the first amendment.

4) "Teaching the controversy" is what creationists call teaching their evidence, which they believe disproves evolution. Unfortunately for the creationists, their so-called evidence has been duly examined and found false or irrelevant.

There simply is no "controversy" in the scientific community. Schools must not be made to teach such misleading ideas. Make no mistake about it: "teaching the controversy" is the same as teaching ID, which is creationism. The fact is, evolutionary theory is being tested, investigated, and refined daily by hundreds of projects at all levels of biology, from molecular genetics to global biogeography.

Testing hypotheses, including all portions of evolutionary theory, is what scientists do for a living. Those who think they can disprove evolutionary theory are invited to submit their findings to the scientific community for publication.

I'm weary of those whose faith is so thin that it is threatened by science.

I'm wary of those who think so poorly of their church that they think it is an inadequate platform from which to teach its own beliefs. I'm wary of those who care so little about freedom of religion and separation of church and state that they feel the need to promote their religious beliefs in public schools. I'm especially wary of those who do these things under false pretenses by calling their agenda "intelligent design" and pretending it has no religious motivation.

You may think you're cleverly hiding behind a protective cloak of invisibility, but your cloak is like cellophane: thin, brittle, and transparent. Any adult can see right through it.

Mostly, I want to affirm what common sense suggests to most of you. Science is not some plot to separate you from God and make your life meaningless - science is the human endeavor to figure out how the world works.

There is no conflict with believing in a loving God who engenders a harmonious society and provides comfort in the face of human mortality. There are complimentary but separate roles to be played by both science and religion in our society.

Science tells us how, and religion tells us why. The fundamentalist fringe has confused the two. Pay them no heed.

Listen to your common sense.

Evolutionary biochemist claims to have proved common descent


May 13, 2:38 PM Creationism Examiner Terry Hurlbut

A biochemist specializing in evolutionary molecular biology has asserted today that he has shown that Universal Common Ancestry (UCA), also known as "common descent," is the most likely model for a progression to the remarkable diversity of life observable today. But what he might actually have shown is that all of life is based on common design principles--which would be consistent with intelligent design, and indeed with creationism.

Douglas L. Theobald, assistant professor of biochemistry at Brandeis University (Waltham, MA), affirmed, in a letter appearing today in the journal Nature (paid subscription required), that he had conducted a "formal test of the theory of universal common ancestry." He did this by applying the principles of model-selection theory to a set of 23 proteins found in all kingdoms of life but which have minor species-specific differences. He calculated that descent from one ancestor was 102,860 times more likely than descent from a plethora of ancestors.

The UCA principle is, as Theobald himself asserts, "a central pillar of modern evolutionary theory," and a pillar proposed by Darwin himself in his Origin of Species. (The other pillars, though Theobald did not mention them, are uniformitarianism and abiogenesis.) But as Theobald himself admits, UCA has been, until now, more assumed than proved. As a result, many evolutionary biologists have put forward hypotheses that life had more than one ancestor, and that the common features of all life forms (like the 23 common proteins that Theobald considered) were the result of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) from one "tree of life" to another.

Theobald, in his letter, asserts that in fact having one common ancestor is far more likely than having several ancestors, whether HGT takes place or not. He further maintained that even if life arose from multiple ancestors, the statistics are most consistent with the eventual elimination of every "tree of life" but one, or else the inevitable transformation of all precursor strains into one common strain from which all other life derived.

The universal common ancestor (models) didn't just explain the data better, they were also the simplest, so they won on both counts.

However, most journalists covering this story have not looked very closely at exactly what Theobald has shown. He has shown that UCA explains, better than multiple-ancestry could explain, why these 23 proteins are so very much alike in twelve selected species, four from each "domain" of life (the eukarya, the bacteria, and the archaea). But he has not shown how those separate domains could have come to exist. Obviously this hypothetical common ancestor is in a domain by itself--but how did it branch out into the three domains observed?

Moreover, as another source familiar with the field observed to this Examiner today, even the concept of UCA says nothing about the actual origin of life. In fact, Theobald, who has defended the UCA concept for years, has specifically disavowed any consideration of the origin of that initial ancestor:

I [do not] consider abiogenesis; I take it as axiomatic that an original self-replicating life form existed in the distant past.

But what brought that self-replicating life form into existence remains a mystery. As the source said, the mere assembly of the components of life did not suffice--for if one kills several bacteria and then reassembles all their component molecules, the bacteria will not regenerate.

There's a definite life force, and they haven't found it yet, nor are they ever likely to.

Ashby L. Camp, administrator of the True.Origin Archive, has criticized Theobald's theories before (twice) on this very ground, and offered his own treatise explaining how unlikely any living cell could have arisen spontaneously.

Nevertheless, Theobald's results do show that all life forms share certain features in common--too many to suppose that the various domains, kingdoms, and phyla arose independently of one another and, by sheer coincidence, developed the same or similar molecular structures. This actually shows, not that life had a single ancestor, but that it had a single Architect. Thus today's findings strengthen the case for creationism, rather than weakening it.

UN science chief defends work, welcomes review



AMSTERDAM — The head of the U.N. scientific body on climate change defended Friday the work of the thousands of scientists who contribute to its reports, even as he welcomed a review of procedures that produced errors undermining the panel's public credibility.

The chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, cautioned an independent scientific committee reviewing the IPCC's work not to undermine scientists' motivation for contributing to reports on global warming.

The voluminous reports of the scientific panel are credited with raising the alarm that human emissions of greenhouse gases already have led to a gradual warming of the globe, and if unchecked could lead to catastrophic changes in weather patterns, rising sea levels and the extinction of about one-third of the species on Earth. The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

But its reports have been dismissed by climate skeptics who attribute global warming to natural cycles. The skeptics were bolstered by a series of errors in the IPCC's 2007 report.

Pachauri told the committee's first review meeting that the panel's conclusions are valid, even in areas where mistakes were discovered.

Pointing to the most glaring error, a claim that the world's glaciers will melt by 2035, Pachauri said glaciers are indeed melting, though not that fast. Nonetheless, glacial melt accounts for 28 percent of sea level rise, and the panel's assessment on glaciers contains "a lot of facts which we can ignore at our peril."

Pachauri said the panel is comprised of volunteer scientists contributing several years of their own time and who disband after issuing their report. The panel has no mechanism for responding to criticism once the reports are issued, other than the small secretariat.

"We need to develop an ability and a capacity to communicate better with the outside world," he told the 15 top scientists from around the world summoned to sit on the review committee..

Pachauri acknowledged the response to the errors was inadequate, but said the attack on the panel was unprecedented.

He said the panel's procedures already are robust, but he welcomed any suggestion that would improve accuracy.

The review is expected to take several weeks before it issues recommendations on how to tighten the IPCC procedures.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press.

Evolution education update: May 14, 2010

A batch of videos for your enjoyment, and NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott is to receive her eighth honorary degree.


A slew of videos featuring NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott have been recently added to NCSE's YouTube channel. There's "Not Over After Dover," a lecture delivered at Colorado State University in January 2010, as well as three segments from the "Listen to the Scientists" series filmed in 2005, in which Scott discusses the nature of science, creationism, and the importance of science education. And there are also two blasts from the past: the presentation, by Molly Ivins, to Scott of the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award for 1999, and "Science Showdown!" -- a mock creationism/evolution debate staged at the 1989 meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, starring Linda Wolfe as Charlene Darwin, William Thwaites as Dr. P. D. Q. Piltdown, William Pollitzer as the Reverend Billy Joe Pollitzer, Leslie Sue Lieberman as Vanna Sue, and Scott as the moderator, Oprah Donahue. Tune in and enjoy!

For NCSE's YouTube channel, visit:


NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott is to receive an honorary degree from Colorado College, on May 17, 2010, in recognition of her achievements in defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools, according to a May 5, 2010, press release from the university. The honorary degree will be her eighth; she received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from McGill University in 2003, the Ohio State University in 2005, Mount Holyoke College and the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, in 2006; Rutgers University in 2007; and the University of New Mexico in 2008, and she will be receiving an honorary degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia, on May 15, 2010.

For the press release, visit:

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Evolution in Alabama


Will Anyone In Alabama Speak For Evolution?

Earlier today I noted a weird situation in Alabama, with a teacher-union-funded ad attacking a candidate for governor for believing in evolution, and the candidate declaring himself a defender of creationism in the schools. I wondered who would speak up for science in Alabama. But I'd be remiss not to point out that good research in evolutionary biology does get done there. For example:

Beatrice Hahn studies the evolution of HIV from chimpanzee-infecting viruses.

Marshal Abrams studies the philosophical foundations of fitness.

Phillip Harris studies the evolution of diversity in freshwater fishes.

John Yoder studies the evolution of new organs.

Steven Secor studies the evolution of digestion in reptiles and amphibians, and what they surprisingly say about the evolution of our own species.

Jeannette Doeller and David Kraus have designed an innovative course on integrating evolution and medicine.

I could go on (and please feel free add other scientists in the comment thread). Suffice to say, there's good stuff going on in Alabama. Too bad it's not better known there.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Intelligent Design: Scientifically and Religiously Bankrupt


Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D..Founder, The Clergy Letter Project
Posted: May 11, 2010 06:00 PM

In case you had any doubt, the last nail was just placed in the coffin of intelligent design (ID). And, in case you had any doubt, that last nail joins many others that have been in place for quite some time.

The latest attack appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) and provides conclusive evidence that the design of the human genome is incredibly imperfect, or, in other words, very far from being intelligently structured. As John Avise, a University of California-Irvine biologist, noted in the paper, his focus "is on a relatively neglected category of argument against ID and in favor of evolution: the argument from imperfection, as applied to the human genome."

The basic concept of intelligent design comes in two parts and is as simple as it is satisfying for those unwilling to think deeply about the natural world, science, or the nature of religion. Part one, stretching way back to the ancient Greeks, notes that nature is so perfectly integrated that it must have been designed just as we see it. Part two, largely attributed to Lehigh University biologist Michael Behe, says that while some aspects of nature might certainly have changed (evolved?) over time, others are so complex that they must always have existed in the form we find them in today. Indeed, he coined the term "irreducibly complex" to explain such structures. Change anything at all in these irreducibly complex structures and they fail to work.

Both parts of ID are spectacularly wrong.

Indeed, demonstrating imperfect design in humans has become something of a fascinating cottage industry. Listen, for example to Abby Hafer, a physiologist at Curry College, discuss five serious flaws, from the blind spot in the human retina to the placement of human testicles, on NPR's Here & Now. In his PNAS article, Avise simply extends this analysis to the human genome discussing myriad serious problems arising from "gratuitous gene complexities" that no self-respecting designer would tolerate.

As Avise notes, Charles Darwin rebutted the intelligent design argument offered by William Paley in 1802. In chapter 14 of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Darwin said, "On the view of each organic being and each separate organ having been specially created, how utterly inexplicable it is that parts ... should so frequently bear the plain stamp of inutility."

Beyond the obvious, and growing, problem that natural design is far from perfect, the concept of intelligent design also runs afoul of the scientific method. Simply put, ID offers no hypotheses that can be tested -- the hallmark of scientific investigation.

The concept of irreducible complexity is even more problematic. Each example of a biological entity or process that has been advanced as being irreducibly complex has been found, after further investigation, to be understandable as a function of its constituent parts. Not surprisingly, as scientists focus their attention on complex structures, over time, they begin to make sense of what they see.

Proponents of ID, on the other hand, demonstrate the height of arrogance in their position. Rather than working toward greater understanding of their subjects, they proclaim something to be irreducibly complex and call for scientific investigation to be halted, claiming that any additional study would be a waste of effort.

Not surprisingly, Darwin had something to say about this anti-intellectual position as well. In The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote, "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."

In calling for enhanced science literacy, most major scientific organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences (in the US) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have made it clear that ID has no scientific underpinnings and that promoting it so blurs the line between science and non-science as to make the former almost meaningless.

Religious organizations have also recognized the paucity of intellectual content embodied in ID -- and the damage that it can do to religion as well as science. The United Methodist Church, for example, at its 2008 General Conference, resoundingly adopted the following motion: "The United Methodist Church goes on record as opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools."

For religion to accept the concept of intelligent design would mean embracing the concept of the "God of the Gaps," a religiously vacuous idea in which adherents turn to God for an explanation for that which science cannot explain. As science advances, the "gaps" become smaller and smaller and God is relegated to a progressively less interesting role.

From both a scientific and a religious perspective, intelligent design is dead and buried. All that's left is to spread the word about its demise.

Books & More From Michael Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Science, Nonscience, and Nonsense: Approaching Environmental Literacy

Good science will come


[Editor's note: I apologize if this has been posted previously, but the workings of the Biologic Institute are coming into play again as the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture is claiming to do serious science here. See Douglas Axe in the new creationist video Darwin's Dilemma.]

13 January 2007 by Douglas Axe , Brendan Dixon and Ann Gauger, Redmond, Washington, US
Magazine issue 2586. Subscribe and save

Your editorial asks a reasonable question: can the theory of intelligent design (ID) lead to good science (16 December 2006, p 5)? Researchers at the Biologic Institute are convinced it can. ID sceptics, of course, want proof.

We take that challenge seriously, which is why we insist on completing our research projects before talking about them. What you have interpreted as conspiratorial "caginess" is just scientific caution.

Your description of ID as doing nothing more than questioning Darwinism is incomplete. Cells process digital information. Humans have also developed this technology. Cells make molecular machines and complex materials by nano-fabrication. So do humans. Cells do complex chemistry, signal transduction and process control. So do humans. But Darwinism prevents what we have learned as engineers from illuminating biology, by insisting that the two modes of invention are fundamentally different.

What humans accomplish only by intellectual effort, nature puts to shame by mindless accident, we are told. If that is wrong - and we think it is - whole new fields open up, waiting to be explored. Perhaps neurobiologists would learn something from computer designers and network whizzes. Maybe systems biologists would start hanging out with systems engineers. We don't know where all this would lead, but we are confident that good science will come out of it.

Biologic Institute

Alabama Gov. Candidate Attacked for Belief in Evolution


May 11, 2010 6:21 PM
Posted by Brian Montopoli

In an ad released earlier this month, which you can watch at left, Alabama gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne is attacked for suggesting that evolution, as opposed to creationism, "best explains the origin of life."

The spot, from a shadowy group called the "True Republican PAC," also criticizes Byrne for suggesting the Bible is "only partially true."

Byrne, a former Democrat, is one of a number of candidates for the Republican nomination, and his opponents include "ten commandments judge" Roy Moore and Tim James, who last month released an ad in which he said, "We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it."

In a response, Byrne said the ad was filled with "despicable lies" - and insisted he is no opponent of creationism.

"As a Christian and as a public servant, I have never wavered in my belief that this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God," he said. "As a member of the Alabama Board of Education, the record clearly shows that I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school text books. Those who attack me have distorted, twisted and misrepresented my comments and are spewing utter lies to the people of this state."

He also said that, contrary to the ad's claims, he believes "every single word" of the Bible is true.

You pulled that out of where?


Category: Absurd medical claims • Medicine
Posted on: May 11, 2010 12:31 PM, by PalMD

Last week I gave you a refresher course on the invalid arguments used by altmed boosters. The Turf Battle Fallacy and Pharma Shill Gambit are classics for a number of reasons. The most amusing thing about these gambits is their hypocrisy. The alternative medicine movement is essentially a collection of businesses selling unproven supplements and interventions (not "therapies", as Steven Novella aptly observes).

Of course, that's an incomplete analysis. Altmed is also a religion, with zealous adherents. The arguments made by these adherents are never about the data, but about beliefs. When asked for data, they often resort to two more of my favorite gambits: moving the goalposts, and the argumentum ex culo. I'm going make an example out of a recent commenter, not because I have anything against him, but because he's just that hilarious.

Our commenter, in defending alternative medicine (but giving few specific examples) states that:

In mentioning diet, I was referring to Pal's own admission that he does not normally bring up diet with his diabetes patients.

I mention this as being ex culo as I have written frequently about lifestyle modification, which is not in any way "alternative", but a normal part of medical practice. I have many times written that advising lifestyle modification is often insufficient. For example (since Nathan gives none):

The truth is that diabetes can, and often is, well-controlled by medicine alone. This isn't because real doctors prefer it that way; it is because many diabetics cannot adhere to diet and exercise programs, and many diabetics do not have enough pancreatic beta cell function left to avoid medications.

When called out on his pulling a "fact" out of the vacuum, he backpedals---and the picks up his goalposts and starts to run:

Pal: I may have inferred wrongly from what you wrote earlier. Dietary adjustments that effectively treat illnesses are rarely mentioned by physicians, in my experience, and are routinely downplayed. If your experience differs, I'm interested to hear about it. Do you ask H. simplex patients about their diet?

"In my experience" is of course a placeholder for, "wait, my rectum is still full of unsupported assertions." Dietary modification is the mainstay for the treatment of many common diseases: coronary heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, obesity, type II diabetes, hyperlipidemia, just to name a few. It is not "downplayed" but real doctors recognize that real patients should not be punished for their inability to make significant enough lifestyle changes.

I had trouble deciding if the final phrase was truly a "moving of the goalposts" or simply an idiotic non sequitur. I concluded that it is both. In my eyes it is a non sequitur because it literally does not follow. It makes no sense. It is devoid of reason. To Nathan, however (who, we should remember, is simply giving us typical examples to work with) he has raised the bar. Now that he sees that I may actually use dietary advice in my practice, his response is, "yeah, but did you do it for this other disease? Huh? Didya?"

This simultaneous running away with the goalposts and birthing ideas ex culo leads to some disturbing imagery, but more important is that it reveals the poor thinking habits of those who would critique the need for medicine to be based on science. There is no "alternative" to medicine. There is simply that which can be shown to work, and that which cannot. The humane application of what we know is the art of medicine. The humane application of alternative medicine is quackery with a smile.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Signature in the Cell Takes on Brazil, Worries Brazilian Press


[Editor's note: I like to reprint these DI blurbs straight so readers can appreciate the workings of their wonderful propaganda mill. It's up to the reader to decipher the background.]

Last week Stephen Meyer presented his groundbreaking Signature in the Cell at Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo, one of Brazil's oldest and most prestigious colleges, as hundreds of students listened.

The Brazilian press was there, as well, giving intelligent design ample coverage. Unfortunately, instead of reporting intelligent design straight (you know, that radical idea of letting the proponents of an idea tell you what it is they actually support), ISTOÉ Independente is cribbing from the American mainstream media, repeating tropes they've read from their counterparts at TIME and Newsweek and inserting their bias into the article, mis-defining ID as "based on the idea that a higher entity would be responsible for the creation of all life forms," calling Behe's irreducible complexity a "psuedoscientific concept," and generally painting the main thrust of ID as a program to get religion into American school (which it most emphatically is not — Discovery's education policy has always been to teach more about Darwin, not mandating intelligent design).

However, when reporter Hélio Gomes lets his subjects speak for themselves, it's not a bad at all:

The event held in Sao Paulo in the last days brought to Brazil two of the most well-know ID advocates in the United States. Stephen C. Meyer, Ph. D. in History and Philosophy of Science, is one of the movement founders, and one of its most vocal spokesmen. Author of three books, among which the recent "Signature in the Cell" (Assinatura na Célula, unpublished in Brazil), he affirms that his mission in Brazilian lands was simple: "We came to raise a discussion – our work is scientific, and not political or educational", said Meyer, one of the most active Discovery Institute members, a non-profit research center connected to the conservative sectors of the American society. "As I believe in God, I believe he is the intelligent designer. But there are atheist scientists who accept the theory in other fashions", concludes the researcher.

Of course, something may be lost in translation if they're calling Dr. Meyer "one of the most active Discovery Institute members," but the message throughout the article is that ID is "one of the greatest polemics to rock the United States society and scientific community in the last years."

Despite the misreporting, it's worth noting the attention the debate over intelligent design and evolution is having internationally.

Note the rather fun juxtaposition of these images: Charles Darwin vs. Charles Thaxton and Stephen Meyer with Richard Dawkins: from the magazine:

[Here the page features descriptive images (editor).]

Many thanks to Enezio E. de Almeida Filho for providing us with a translation of the article.

For more on the international intelligent design movement, check out the links at IntelligentDesign.org.

Posted by Anika Smith on May 7, 2010 11:31 AM | Permalink

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Knox school board votes to keep biology textbook


Publisher to get letter; board also OKs budget
By Lola Alapo
Posted May 5, 2010 at 11:36 p.m.

The Knox County school board Wednesday upheld a review committee's recommendation for continued use of a controversial biology textbook and approved a budget for the 2010-11 school year — two decisions that were deferred last month following heated debate.

Both topics garnered more than three hours of discussion Wednesday.

Regarding the textbook 'Asking About Life,' although board members voted to keep it in the classroom, they directed Superintendent Jim McIntyre to send a letter to the publisher 'suggesting that they consider less provocative wording in future editions,' according to an approved motion submitted by board Chairwoman Indya Kincannon.

At issue was the book's description of creationism as a biblical 'myth.'

The board also urged McIntyre to buy the new textbook that was recently adopted for honors biology as soon as fiscally possible.

The decision passed on a 6-3 vote, with board members Cindy Buttry, Patrick Richmond and Robert Bratton dissenting.

Kurt Zimmermann, the Farragut High School father who brought the appeal to have the book removed or amended, said while he wasn't pleased with the decision, 'some good things came out of it … we got awareness of (the issue), and that was the important thing.'

A school-based review committee initially handled his request and ultimately recommended that while the use of the word 'myth' was regrettable, the book was still a value teaching tool.

Zimmermann added: 'What keeps being missed is, it's not about me. Students brought this forward. What they've done is they've ruled against the students.'

Zimmermann noted that it was his son and several other students who first noticed the book's definition of creationism and brought it to his attention.

He said he would likely bring another appeal, adding, 'This probably isn't over.'

Before the vote, Zimmermann told board members that to keep the book in the classroom would be a violation of at least three of their policies that prohibited belittling or demeaning religious views.

Also Wednesday, board members unanimously approved a $378.7 million spending plan for the 2010-11 academic year but with a request that the Knox County Commission — the school system's funding body — add $1.73 million so the school officials can restore 30 teaching positions and 10 teacher assistant positions that were cut to help balance the budget.

The board now puts the onus on commission, with board member Dan Murphy saying that 'if our funding body feels it is important not to cut dozens of teaching positions … and deems it valuable,' then they would find a way to add the positions back into the school system's operating budget.

As part of the decision, board members next year will pay their own travel expenses in and out of state, which would save the school system roughly $13,000.

Lola Alapo may be reached at 865-342-6376.

© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.

Knox students will use 'Asking About Life' text


Associated Press - May 6, 2010 11:45 AM ET

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Knox County school board has voted to have some students continue use of a biology textbook that caused a complaint about its description of creationism as a biblical "myth."

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that the panel on a 6-3 vote upheld a review committee's recommendation to continue use of the "Asking About Life" textbook.

Board members also directed superintendent Jim McIntyre to send a letter suggesting that in future editions the publisher "consider less provocative wording" about the biblical account of creation.

A Farragut High School student's father, Kurt Zimmerman, had asked to have the book removed or amended. Zimmerman said Wednesday he wasn't pleased with the decision but the discussion increased awareness and that was an "important thing."

Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press

Don McLeroy, the dentist who wants to drill pupils in Creationism

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article7118715.ece From Times Online May 7, 2010

Giles Whittell

Don McLeroy is generally available to journalists between 12.30 and 1.30pm. The rest of the time he is either fixing the teeth of patients he considers to be direct descendents of Adam and Eve, or making space for his "Young Earth" world view in the textbooks of Texan schoolchildren.

Dr McLeroy is probably the most influential dentist in the history of America's culture wars. Cheerful, tireless and utterly single-minded, he sports a moustache reminiscent of Hergé's Thompson twins. He describes himself as a Christian fundamentalist and believes Earth was created 10,000 years ago.

His views would matter little were he not also chairman of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), which oversees the biggest textbook-procurement programme in the United States and for the past two years has been dominated by creationists like himself.

One result is a document due to be signed this month that will require Texas teenagers, for the first time, to study gaps in the fossil record and look for other ways to question whether natural selection can account for diversity in the world. If the past is any guide the new Texas "standards" will determine the content of science textbooks in up to 48 of the 50 states for the next decade — in which case, as one despairing secularist put it, publishers will have "bowed at the altar of junk science simply to sell a book".

It is not just in Texas that creationists are on the march. Recent polls suggest that between 44 and 46 per cent of Americans reject Darwin's theory of evolution in favour of some form of creationism. In Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky and South Dakota, state legislators are seeking to bracket evolution with global warming as a theory subject to serious doubt rather than a scientific orthodoxy. The National Centre for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution in US public schools against inroads by creationists, is so alarmed that it has branded 2010 "the year of science denial" — yet nothing alarms it more than Dr McLeroy's astonishing success in seeding the Texas high school curriculum with his literal interpretation of Genesis.

The dentist has not achieved everything he wanted. Creationism will not be taught alongside evolution as an alternative explanation for life on Earth. Even so, he says he is still "pumped". By requiring students to probe for weaknesses in evolutionary theory the new standards will "restore the lustre of science", he says at his surgery in College Station, near Houston.

"Take bones," he says, offering a brief description of the collagen and amino acids in bones as an example of biological complexity. "Intuitively people have a tough time thinking nothing guided this. Are we supposed to believe that all of a sudden, say on April 1, five million years ago, the first bone appeared? The question is, how did evolution do this, and the evolutionists have been painted into a corner. They don't even have a clue. How did that first piece of bone get there?"

As it happens the evolutionists do have answers — but in a fossil record spanning many more billions of years than a literal interpretation of Genesis allows. "If science was the issue here we wouldn't be having this debate," says Dan Quinn, of the Texas Freedom Network, set up to defend mainstream science in the school system. "This is about a particular group wanting to push its agenda." An ally of Mr Quinn's at the National Centre for Science Education offers some parallels: "Should creationism be taught with evolution? Should alchemy be taught with chemistry? Should astrology be taught with astronomy? No!"

Dr McLeroy is confident that the new standards will be incorporated in tests and online teaching materials as well as textbooks since publishers will be vulnerable to lawsuits if they are not. The question then is whether the other 49 states follow where Texas leads. Ordinarily a science textbook that appeared to offer too many concessions to the creationist position might be "poison" in more liberal states, Mr Quinn says. But mergers in US educational publishing have left only three big national players, each more responsive to Texas Board of Education curriculum standards than those of any other state because with $22 billion (£15 billion) to spend each year and annual orders for up to 48 million books it is by far their biggest customer.

What applies to science applies equally to social studies, to which Dr McLeroy has also applied himself with vigour. Like the other seven conservatives on the fifteen-member education board he is neither a teacher nor a history graduate. Yet in the past year they have passed more than 200 amendments to the state's social studies standards with the effect of emphasising the role of conservatives in recent US history and downplaying that of liberals.

Newt Gingrich, author of the Republicans' 1994 Contract with America, and Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-abortion activist, are named as standard-bearers of the late 20th-century "conservative resurgence". So are the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby's main voice in Washington. The Civil Rights movement will still be taught but students will also be asked to consider its "unintended consequences" — a veiled reference to affirmative action programmes that some consider discriminatory towards whites. Pupils will also learn about the Venona Papers, decrypted Soviet intelligence intercepts used to support the McCarthyite view of an America under attack by a communist fifth column in the 1950s.

Dr McLeroy was especially concerned, on reading the social studies standards for the first time, that 14-year-olds were not being taught the role of religion in the foundations of representative government in the US. "So we just made sure they put that back in," he said with a chuckle.

The dentist's opponents have one reason to be cheerful: he was defeated last year when running for re-election to the education board and will stand down in November. In his absence the fight will continue for a creationist alternative to evolution to be taught in schools. In normally liberal Connecticut,voters recently returned a creationist to the state school board for the first time. In Illinois, the Republican candidate for governor will be a Darwin doubter. In Christian universities in Virginia and Colorado, students study the "myth of evolution" as part of degree courses. Last month some of them took part in an annual trip to Washington to view — and debunk — fossils on display at the Museum of Natural History. Lauren Dunn, 19, from Liberty University, dismissed as arbitrary the age of 210 million years given to the Morganucodon rat. "They put that time to make up for what they don't know," she told a reporter. It was a view that one of her lecturers helped to rationalise by teaching her that carbon dating is unreliable.

Underpinning the efforts of creationists across America is a belief that the separation of Church and State is not, in fact, a sacred plank of the Constitution. Without such a separation it might become legal to teach creationism in public schools even though it is based on religious belief. So far, the Supreme Court has sided with Darwin, most recently in a landmark ruling in 2005. It is unlikely to reverse that ruling, forcing creationists to train their fire on lower courts and co-opt scientific controversy wherever they can find it. "They're questioning Earth science, planetary science, plate tectonics and now global warming," says Robert Luhn, a spokesman for the National Centre for Science Education. "They're all basically anti-science when you get right down to it."

Dr McLeroy demurs. "I love science." When it comes to criticising Darwin, he says, "there is just a huge ideological resistance that I fail to understand".

Acupuncture Is Popular, but You'll Need to PayBy LESLEY ALDERMAN


Published: May 1, 2010

WHEN Divya Kumar was having trouble getting pregnant four years ago, she meticulously tracked her menstrual cycles and found something was amiss. She was ovulating late, on Day 22, instead of on the more normal Day 14.

Ms. Kumar, then 29, went to see an obstetrician-gynecologist for help.

"The doctor said there wasn't anything she could do for me because I was under age 35 and had been trying to conceive for less than year — even though it was clear something was not quite right," Ms. Kumar explained. "She said, 'come back in a year.' "

Ms. Kumar, who has a master's degree in public health and lives in Jamaica Plain, Mass., decided to try an alternative. She went to see an acupuncturist who said, "I can help; give me 12 weeks."

Because her insurer, like most, did not cover acupuncture, Ms. Kumar had to pay for the $70 weekly treatments she hoped would put her cycle on a more normal schedule. After the first few treatments, that seemed to be working. Two months later, Ms. Kumar was pregnant. There is no way of knowing for sure whether it was the acupuncture or the gynecologist's keep-on-trying advice that helped Ms. Kumar conceive.

But a growing number of people are turning to acupuncture for help with conditions including infertility, chronic pain, depression and menopause symptoms. And they are turning to it even though financially it remains a largely out-of-pocket form of health care.

In a 2007 survey, 3.1 million adults reported using acupuncture in the previous 12 months, up from 2.1 million in a 2002 survey, according to the government's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a unit of the National Institutes of Health.

The center's Web site is mainly neutral on the question of acupuncture's effectiveness, and it urges people to go to a medical doctor — not an acupuncturist — to have a medical condition diagnosed. Acupuncture can have a powerful effect on your system, but serious ailments typically require a dose of Western medicine, like a course of antibiotics, a prescription-strength pain killer or even surgery.

Still, there are a handful of well-respected studies indicating that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for a range of conditions, like chronic headaches, osteoarthritis, depression in pregnancy and low back pain.

Western doctors are beginning to embrace it, sometimes sending their patients to acupuncturists for specific conditions. And the federal Food and Drug Administration takes it at least seriously enough to regulate acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners.

But insurers have been reluctant to cover acupuncture. And even in the relatively rare instances when insurers do, they might pay for only a few visits or a specific condition.

Ms. Kumar was able to get a financial break by using money from her flexible spending account at work. "It was expensive," she said, "but probably not as expensive as infertility treatments would have been."

When she was ready to have a second child, she again went to her acupuncturist, Claire McManus, and became pregnant within months.

Proponents say that acupuncture, in addition to helping treat existing conditions, can also help prevent problems from occurring in the first place. Some devotees of acupuncture even say they believe treatments keep them healthy and out of the doctor's office, potentially saving them money.

"We're seeing a small but growing number of clients come to our clinic for wellness tune-ups," said Angela Grasso, director of clinical services at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in Manhattan, which is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and trains students to become licensed acupuncturists.

To receive a license to practice acupuncture in New York State, one must have completed 4,050 hours of course work, done 650 hours of clinical training and treated 250 patients. Once students have completed those requirements, they must pass a national certification examination in acupuncture.

Marcus Berardino, 41, a massage therapist and yoga instructor in Brooklyn, swears by the acupuncture treatments he receives regularly. "Combined with other natural remedies like biking, healthy eating and a little daily meditating," he said, "it keeps me healthy and fairly balanced."

Some hospitals are beginning to offer acupuncture to inpatients for pain and anxiety.

"When patients receive acupuncture before or after surgery, their anxiety is less, and their pain is reduced," said Arya Nielsen, director of the acupuncture fellowship program at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. "They need less pain medication and so have less side effects from the medication."

Beth Israel patients receive their acupuncture treatments free through the postgraduate fellowship program run by Dr. Nielsen, who has doctorate in the philosophies of medicine.

But for most people, money is a consideration. Sessions with an acupuncturist run about $65 to $120, depending on where you live (and some leading acupuncturists charge as much as $300). Most ailments require at least three treatments, while some chronic issues like arthritis might require biweekly or monthly sessions, depending on the situation.

If you want to try acupuncture, but are concerned about the cost, here are some suggestions:

CHECK YOUR COVERAGE Call your insurer and ask whether your policy covers acupuncture. If it does, press for details.

Find out how many sessions a year it allows and whether a doctor's prescription is needed. Check whether it allows coverage for only certain conditions. Some policies, for instance, might cover acupuncture only for chronic pain.

TRY A SCHOOL If you must pay yourself, consider discount treatment by an acupuncturist-in-training. Most acupuncture schools have clinics where you can be treated by supervised students at discounted rates of $40 or so for one to two hours. To find a school, go to the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine's Web site.

Barbara Andisman, who was told she had multiple sclerosis two years ago, has been going to the clinic at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in Manhattan once a week for more than a year. She says the treatments help with her balance and energy.

"I have a type of M.S. for which there are no medications; the treatments have been incredible and helped keep me stable," said Ms. Andisman, 52, who lives in Brooklyn. "If I miss a few sessions I notice a difference. I feel kind of sluggish."

COMMUNITY ACUPUNCTURE If your problem is not serious or complicated — say you are suffering from stress or headache pain — consider visiting a community acupuncture setting, where fees can be as low as $15 a session.

You receive a brief assessment and then are treated, fully clothed, in an open room with other patients. It is the acupuncture equivalent of a chair massage.

To locate a clinic near you, see the Web site of the nonprofit Community Acupuncture Network.

USE FLEX SPENDING Even if your insurer will not reimburse you, your flexible spending account might — if you have one. Using flex-spending dollars to pay for treatments can reduce the cost by 20 percent or so, depending on your tax bracket. Look on your employer's list of approved expenses to see whether acupuncture is included.

HAVE SOME PATIENCE Acupuncture often has a cumulative effect. If you have a simple cold or headache, you might feel better after one session. But it might take three sessions before you start to notice an improvement in a muscle strain, according to Ms. Grasso, who is also a licensed acupuncturist.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Evolution education update: May 7, 2010 NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott is to receive her seventh honorary degree, and NCSE Supporter Tim White is named one of Time's 100 most influential people. Plus a free preview of Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be.


NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott is to receive an honorary degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia, on May 15, 2010, in recognition of her achievements in defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools. According to a May 4, 2010, press release from the university:


Scott has served as the executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) since 1987. Under her leadership, NCSE has become the most influential organization in the battle over how evolution is taught in the United States. ... Over the course of her career, Scott has become the leading critic of creationism and intelligent design in the United States and a relentless advocate for the preservation of teaching evolution in schools.


The honorary degree will be her seventh; she received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from McGill University in 2003, the Ohio State University in 2005, Mount Holyoke College and the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, in 2006; Rutgers University in 2007; and the University of New Mexico in 2008.

The honor is especially meaningful for Scott, since she is a graduate of the University of Missouri, Columbia, where she earned her Ph.D. in physical anthropology with a dissertation on dental evolution in pre-Columbian Peru. She previously received the university's distinguished alumni award in 1993.

For the press release, visit:


NCSE congratulates Tim White on his inclusion in Time magazine's list of "the people who most affect our world" for 2010. White was honored for his work in paleoanthropology, particularly the recently described "Ardi" -- Ardipithecus ramidus. Sean B. Carroll wrote, "'Ardi,' a 4-ft. female, transforms our picture of our early ancestors. Ardi was at home in trees, but she also walked upright. A woodland dweller, she refutes the belief that modern posture was an adaptation to living on the savanna. Gaps in human history remain, but White has filled a big one." A Supporter of NCSE, White is Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

For Time's story, visit:


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Daniel Loxton's Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be (Kids Can Press, 2010), aimed at kids 8 to 13. Included are pages about the fossil record, Darwin, mutations, evolution in action, and the evolution of the eye. "I am just so delighted with this book!" NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott writes. "Loxton hits the key concepts perfectly, and without being stuffy about it. A wonderful book to donate to your local library." And Donald Prothero adds, "A wonderfully clear, up-to-date, and well-illustrated account of how evolution works. The scientific content is first-rate."

For the preview (PDF), visit:

For information about the book from its publisher, visit:

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

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NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!

Your doctor's only in it for the money. Right?


Category: Medicine
Posted on: May 6, 2010 2:51 PM, by PalMD

Alternative medicine is very profitable. Herbs and supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry. The practice of primary care medicine is not terribly lucrative, and adding on some "integrative medicine" can turn that around. A primary care doc can significantly increase their income by selling supplements and offering unproven tests and treatments. These are not covered by insurance, so patients must pay cash---and who doesn't love cash? But how can you get your pigeons to fly in the door?

The folks out there selling miracle cures and spreading the ideology to support them have some serious reach. Regardless of whether one is a "true believer" or simply a cynical leech out to make a buck, it's easy to spread the word and bring in the suckers. Supplement companies fund tons of advertising, the government allows all sorts of unproven claims to be made, and certain media outlets (such as the Huffington Post) vigorously spread the good word.

There are many myths that help spread the gospel of alternative medicine. Most of them are negative statements about real medicine rather than affirmative evidence for an alternative. It sometimes seems the fight against quackery is never-ending. It's been a while since we've reviewed some of the tactics of the opposition, so let's go over a few.

The Turf Battle Fallacy

A common accusation is that real doctors are simply protecting their best interests. If we don't criticize alternative medicine, we'll lose business to those enlightened enough to embrace the future.

There are several reasons that this argument is a bucket of guano. First, primary care physicians aren't hurting for business. We might not always get paid as much as we think we should, but we can only see so many patients in a day, and with the current shortage of PCPs, many offices have waiting lists.

Second, this argument assumes that most doctors are primarily motivated by profit. We all need to make a living, but most doctors who choose to practice primary care are aware of the fact that our incomes are more limited than our specialist colleagues and people in some other professions. And while the barrel may contain a couple of bad apples, most doctors prefer to practice ethically and altruistically. One study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that:

Rather than declining income, threats to physicians' autonomy, to their ability to manage their day-to-day patient interactions and their time, and to their ability to provide high-quality care are most strongly associated with changes in satisfaction.

Most doctors are in this profession for the right reasons, and when we rail against quacks, we do it to protect our patients, not ourselves.

The Pharma Shill Gambit

Orac coined this term several years ago, and it's probably the silliest idea that quacks have come up with---and one of the most effective. This lie works because it contains some truth. There have always been unscrupulous doctors shilling for industry, but most of us think we are uninfluenced by, say, a free lunch. Our own literature has shown repeatedly that doctors' prescribing habits are influenced by seemingly innocent interactions with drug company representatives, even when we think we are not being influenced. This insidious level of influence is very different from the accusations thrown around by many altmed advocates who accuse us of purposefully mistreating our patients to benefit industry.

Still, we must strive to eliminate even unconscious influence, and that's exactly what we're doing. Two years ago, the Association of American Medical Colleges called for the elimination of pharmaceutical gifts at medical schools and teaching hospitals, including free lunches and support for continuing medical education (CME). CME is particularly problematic because it is a requirement for all physicians who wish to maintain their licenses, but it isn't cheap. The data show that the pharmaceutical industry understands how to influence us. And we increasingly understand how we are affected and are working to limit this. In addition to the AAMCs efforts to protect trainees, our own organizations and publications are calling for stricter and stricter limitations on our interactions with PhARMA.

Industry influence on doctors is rarely a quid pro quo phenomenon. It is a subtle influence which we are working hard to purge. To argue that doctors, for example, prescribe vaccines because we are in the thrall of Big PhARMA and need the money is simply false. We have been influenced by, but have rarely profited in a direct, monetary way from industry influence, and this is changing for the better.

Medicine, and the world in general, is a bit more complicated than the quasi-religious altmed crowd would have us believe, and doctors much less sinister.